Photo: NBC Sports Boston
By Patrick Whalen
The last game of 2018 for the Celtics would be against one of the most successful franchises over the last two decades in the San Antonio Spurs. Even without the big three the Spurs still have a talented squad led by LaMarcus Aldridge and Demar DeRozan. They also still have this guy named Greg Popovich as their head coach. The Celtics are coming into this game coming off a road win in Memphis after coming back from a 19 point defficet. The Spurs are noy just the last Celtics opponent of 2018 but are also the last stop on this three game road trip, a win would give the Celtics a 2-1 record on the short western trip. The Celtics would have to deal with a lack of depth up front again as Aron Baynes is still out for the forseeable future with his broken hand and Robert Williams missed his second straight game with a hamstring issue. This means that guys like Al Horford and Marcus Morris would need to step up to the challenge of guarding LaMarcus Aldrigde.
The Celtics offense was powered by surprisingly not Kyrie Irving or any starter for that. Jaylen Brown actually led the way for the Celtics off the bench with 30 points on 10-15 shooting including dunks like these.
Terry Rozier also gave the Celtics a boost off the bench with 15 points of his own on 4-9 shooting, 4-6 from three., and 5 assists. Marcus Morris led the way for the starters with 18 points on 7-13 with 4 rebounds. Kyrie meanwhile had 16 points on 7-14 shooting with 8 assists in just 29 minutes of action as he left the game with an eye injury during the fourth quarter.
Tatum struggled shooting at just 6-14 for the night but still finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds (Basketball-Reference.com). With the help from the bench and the Celtics picking up where they left off defensively from last game they led 52-46 at the half.
But in the second half the Spurs offense would explode for 74 points including 46 points in just the third quarter. Aldridge led the Spurs with 32 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 assists to power the Spurs to come back in the second half. The Spurs starters were more productive than Boston. Besides Aldridge the Spurs had 3 other starters in double figures with Derrick White going for 22 points on 8-9 shooting, Bryn Forbes getting 15 points, and Demar DeRozan getting 13 points, 10 assists and 7 rebounds. Much like the Celtics the Spurs had some help from their bench. Davis Bertans had 17 points on 6-12 shooting including 5-8 from deep and Patty Mills had 11 points (Basketball-Reference.com).
The Celtics again were only able to put up one half of good basketball again as the Spurs out scored them by 15 in the second half to take down the Celtics 120-111. A key to this Spurs second half run was the lack of presence by the Celtics bigs vs Aldridge. Horford who was still on a 25 minute restriction had just 9 points and 3 rebounds and Dainel Theis had just 4 points and 6 rebounds. The two also combined for a -6 plus/minus rating. Meanwhile Aldridge had 32 points and 9 rebounds and a +15 plus/minus by himself. Rebounding overall was also an issue as the Celtics lost the rebounding battle again 43-40. The two issues that have plauged this team for most of the year showed up again tonight as the Celtics couldn’t put together 48 minutes of consistent defense after playing spectacular defense in the second half against Memphis that helped propel the Celtics comeback. The rebounding has been a glaring issue all year essecially since Aron Baynes went down with a broken left hand on December 15th against the Suns. The Celtics just don’t have a big who can matchup with dominate rebounding big men.
The Celtics finished out the 2018 half of the season with a 21-15 record, way below the standards that were set before the season. They currently sit in 5th in the eastern conference and 5.5 games out of first place. The Celtics next game willbe at home against a young Timberwolves squad on Wednesday. The Celtics already have one win this year against the Wolves in Minnesota during the Celtics 8 game win streak. the Celtics won the previous matchup by a score of 118-109 and Gordon Hayward dropped a season high 30 points off the bench. The Celtics may need another performance like that from Hayward as they maybe without Kyrie Irving who is questionable with a scratched right cornea which he suffered in the fourth quarter going for a loss ball. If Irving is unable to go everyone will need to step up their play to try and win especially Terry Rozier who would start in place of Irving if he is unable to play. Hopefully this team can put 2018 behind them and get a fresh start here in 2019 and play like the team we all know they can.